Storyglossia Issue 34, July 2009.

Bad Priest

by Roxane Gay


Father Mickey—Father Michael Patrick Minty who went by Mickey to distance himself from the expectations of his mother—was having an affair with a girl named Rebekah. Rebekah was a perfume girl in a department store who still lived with her parents. She was not Catholic. Father Mickey's mother, Nora Minty, a devout Catholic, named her son Michael after the archangel Michael because she was convinced, from the moment she laid eyes on her baby boy, that he would be a warrior for the faith. He was named Patrick for his father, may he rest in peace, who left Nora when Mickey was four, and died three months later from an excess of joy, Patrick Minty's friends would later say, because he died in his studio apartment watching a baseball game with a six-pack of beer in his lap.

While his friends were told bedtime stories, Mickey Minty was nurtured with dark stories about the constant battle for salvation and how David beat Goliath and how Sodom and Gomorrah fell. Over and over, Nora would recite the Book of Daniel, Chapter Twelve, Verse One—"But at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people." He heard the verse so often that the words made him sick to his stomach. That is how, he later decided, the lining of his stomach began to give way to acid and ulcers.

No one was more surprised than Michael Patrick Minty when he entered the seminary and then the priesthood. It was a simple life, he told himself. He didn't have to think that much. He would never have to support anyone. Mickey Minty wasn't incapable of handling responsibility, but given his mother's expectations, he simply didn't have the energy for anything more. There were his parishioners, but at the end of the day, he could lock himself in the rectory, alone, without having to worry about anyone but himself. There was comfort in that, and that comfort made the sacrifices of the priesthood something he could endure.

Mickey Minty did not like to listen to strangers. He did not like to listen to anyone at all. The sounds of other voices, high-pitched and flighty or low and timid or any other variation, they all made him edgy and nauseous. There were days when he heard so many words detailing so many sins and sorrows and hopes and wants and needs that hot sprays of acid burned the back of his throat while he sat, hidden in the confessional, shifting his weight uncomfortably during particularly long excavations of human failing. Having to care, to soothe, to dispense was just too much. Worse yet was the way they looked to him for answers, eagerly listened to his counsel, believed, and dutifully carried out penance. What he hated was the way his parishioners had faith—faith that he would show them the way and faith that he would fight for their faith and faith that there was meaning in all this—that there was something greater than themselves. Mickey Minty had very little faith so he lied to his parishioners. He lied so extravagantly that even though he was not a believer, he feared for his mortal soul.

Rebekah had very little interest in church or faith but she did have a great deal of interest in Mickey Minty who she met in the crowded waiting room of the county hospital where she was waiting for a friend getting stitches. The friend, Ava, had put her fist through a glass door in a dramatic gesture meant to prevent her boyfriend from walking out on her. The gesture had failed spectacularly. Rebekah was waiting and Mickey Minty was sitting next to her wearing a light grey tracksuit while he waited to hear news about an elderly parishioner who had taken gravely ill. Mickey was looking at Rebekah and listening as she told him how she had just broken up with her boyfriend César who had just gotten out of rehab and was more annoying than ever with his newfound sobriety and the fervor of twelve steps and the belief in a higher power. She was not sure there was a higher power, she added, leaning in close, resting a perfectly manicured hand on Mickey's knee as she crossed her legs. He tapped her knuckles with his fingers. "We have something in common," he said.

Rebekah liked to talk to strangers, liked to pour her heart out, share the intimate and mundane details of her life with anyone who would listen. Father Minty liked studying her lower lip, full and pouty, slick with gloss. Her mouth, he thought, was perfectly designed for things he shouldn't but often did contemplate. Her mouth was wide and her tongue seemed especially long, coming to a perfect point that he would enjoy nipping between his teeth. His faith was temporarily renewed. Mickey also didn't mind Rebekah's cleavage, ample and well displayed beneath the tightly stretched silk of a summer dress. He looked up at the fluorescent lights, shaking his head, then returned his attention to Rebekah's mouth. And not for nothing, she smelled incredible. Most of the time, he was around old people who smelled of ointments and toilet water so he was particularly appreciative of the effort Rebekah put into smelling divine. Despite her incessant chatter, Mickey knew instantly that he would be more than happy to bend his vows on her behalf.

That night, in the emergency room, where they were both waiting, Mickey Minty listened to Rebekah because she was wearing a short, tight dress and bright red lipstick and her bra straps were showing, She was the kind of girl his mother warned him about when he was a teenager. She was the kind of girl who would have never paid him any mind. He now decided that the way she was dressed was irrefutable evidence that she was the kind of girl who needed saving. This is what he told himself, as he told Rebekah that he was a priest. This is what he told himself, when he invited her for a tour of his church—a tour she took the following weekend, on a Saturday after Mickey Minty performed the O'Kelly wedding and wilting daisies were still hanging on the edges of the pews.

The first time they fucked, they were in the church, and it was late—two in the morning. Moonlight shone through the stained glass and Rebekah laughed and laughed because she liked the way her voice echoed beneath the vaulted ceilings. Rebekah wasn't his first indiscretion, but he was greedy with her. The experience was largely unmemorable for Rebekah, though she remembered that his fingers smelled like incense and his breath tasted like mint. And she remembered staring at two larger than life crucifixes, the one hanging behind the altar and the one draped around his neck and how they moved in and out of her sight with each of Mickey Minty's vigorous thrusts.

A few nights later, Rebekah showed up at the rectory. Two in the morning, again, and she let herself in. She found Mickey Minty, on the second floor, sitting on the edge of a narrow bed in a sparsely decorated room. He was holding a rosary and he was whispering. His eyes were open, but he hardly looked up as she entered the room. Rebekah slipped out of her raincoat, and she sat next to Mickey. She rested a cold hand on the back of his neck, sliding her fingers up through his hair, short, neatly kept. "You shouldn't have come here," Mickey said. Rebekah quickly slipped out of her clothes and lay on her back, draping one arm over her head. The sheets were clean but rough, the mattress thin but firm. She pulled one of Mickey's hands between her thighs. He fingered the rosary beads with one hand and Rebekah with the other. Later, when Mickey was sleeping, his rosary beads still clutched in his hand, Rebekah watched him for as long as she dared, then left before the rest of the church staff arrived for their morning duties.

Rebekah thrived on hopeless relationships. Mickey was the most recent in a long line of inappropriate men that always left Rebekah intrigued but vaguely unsatisfied physically, emotionally and otherwise. What she liked about Mickey Minty was just how extremely inappropriate he was. She would never be able to introduce him to anyone she knew. He wouldn't make grand gestures or treat her kindly. He wasn't that kind of man, with or without the collar. And this heady combination of futility compelled Rebekah to fall madly, desperately in love with Mickey Minty. She gave very little thought to his spiritual obligations. They were minor details and if there was guilt to be had on the subject, she left that to Mickey who did, after all, deal in such things.

Mickey had a flock to tend. Rebekah took to attending mass—sitting in the front row and smiling, demurely, as he delivered stern sermons on adhering to Catholic doctrine while the world fell apart. He offered her the body, the blood of Christ, letting his fingers touch the moist tip of her tongue after placing the communion wafer between her slightly parted lips. After mass, after the cookies and punch in the atrium, after he had done the home visits to the sick and shut in, Mickey would take Rebekah out to dinner several towns over. They would sit in the back of the restaurant, on the same side of the booth. Mickey would remove his collar and Rebekah would rest her head against his shoulder, unzip his pants beneath the table, slide her hand into the crease, lightly stroking him the waiter took their order.

She always ordered French onion soup and the roasted chicken. Mickey always ordered the Porterhouse steak, rare, mushrooms on the side and a glass of red wine. When they were done eating, they would sneak into the men's bathroom. They would go into the last stall. Mickey would turn Rebekah around so he didn't have to look at her. He would pull her skirt up, slide his pants down, and he would fuck her, hard. He would grunt. He would pray under his breath. In his mind, he would call her filthy names then he would castigate himself for his indiscretion. Although he had little faith, he did have shame. When he was done, he would kiss Rebekah on her shoulder and inhale deeply, trying to identify the fragrance she had chosen for the day, always something different, a benefit of her job. He would send her back to their table and then try to clean himself with thin paper towels and foamy dollops of industrial soap.

On the nights when Rebekah knew she couldn't risk sneaking into the rectory, she would call Mickey on the phone. She would talk about her job and her family and how César was still hanging around, trying to make amends. She would ask Mickey if that made him jealous and answer the question for herself. She would talk about her friends and the clubs where they partied and how she wished Mickey could meet the people that mattered. Mickey wouldn't say much, though he would wince as his stomach churned, as he listened to Rebekah's sins and sorrows and hopes and wants and needs. He would endure her confessions as his penance. He prided himself on his ability to endure. He would listen and reach into the drawer in his nightstand, fumbling for a bottle of antacid tablets. He would chew four or five and wash the chalky crumbs down with a sip of water. He would endure. Then he would ask her what she was wearing, and he would stare at the small wooden crucifix on the wall while Rebekah nurtured him with the filthy details of what she would do to him the next time they were together.

Mickey visited his mother every Monday for dinner and a few hours of television, contemplation, complaining and inevitably, prayer. After he started seeing Rebekah, Nora Minty became suspicious. She loved her son but she was not blind to his failings, his weakness. "There's something different about you," she said one Monday evening, eight months after Mickey and Rebekah had first consummated their affair. Nora said this as she carefully sliced a rare roast and lifted a dense, bloody piece of meat onto his plate. Mickey recoiled, gritted his teeth. He willed himself to smile kindly at his mother. He gripped his silverware until his fingers ached and carefully focused on the business of eating the slaughtered calf on the sacrificial altar of his plate. He listened as his mother railed against Satan and weakness and his eternal fight for the faith and the danger of temptation. Mickey willed the muscles in his throat to pull each carefully cut piece of meat into his stomach. He only paused to take sips of wine, cheap, red. He paused often. By the end of the meal, his stomach ached. His head was spinning and his cheeks were flushed. His mother was yet another indignity he was forced to endure.

"There's nothing different about me," he finally said, when they were settled in the family room eating pound cake as the television flickered silently.

Nora sucked her teeth, reached for her bible sitting on the end table. "We should pray," she said.

Mickey shook his head. "All I do is pray. Let's just enjoy the evening."

Nora's bible was well worn, and opened easily to her favorite passages. She held it open on her lap. "We'll pray. Corinthians 10:13."

Mickey swallowed a dry lump of pound cake. "You'll have to refresh my memory."

Nora sighed then cleared her throat. "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

"Endure, indeed. Thank you mother."

Nora reached over, gently patting Mickey's hand, then holding her bible in the air. "This has all the answers."

He slid lower in his chair, rubbed his temples, reached for the remote and changed the channel. They sat in silence for the rest of the evening. Later, as he made his goodbyes, his mother shook her head, her lips pursed so tightly they had gone white. Then she grabbed hold of her son, held him tight, so tightly that he gasped. "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability," she whispered in his ear, her hot breath sending new sprays of acid into his throat.

When he got back to the rectory, Mickey called Rebekah. His hands were sweaty and he could barely grip the receiver. "Get over here," he said, not unkindly. Rebekah was at a bar a few blocks from the rectory when Mickey called. He didn't call often, leaving the responsibility of communication to her. She answered quickly, said nothing in response because she did not need to. She was drinking with her girlfriends Angel and Sarah who wanted to know, in explicit detail, who had called and where Rebekah was headed at that time of the night. She remained coy, quickly finished her beer, reapplied a fresh coat of lipstick, and hurried to the rectory, her heels echoing against the pavement. She found Mickey kneeling next to his bed and she smiled when he looked up at her. Under different circumstances, in that moment, Rebekah would tell Mickey she loved him terribly.

Instead, Rebekah stood next to her priest, dragging her long fingernails across the back of his neck the way he liked.

"I'm a bad man," Mickey said, holding her gaze.

Rebekah slid between Mickey and the bed. She pulled her skirt up, her panties down. She pulled Mickey's mouth toward her. "I know," she replied.

Copyright©2009 Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, Night Train, decomP, Necessary Fiction, DIAGRAM, Pindeldyboz and others. She is the associate editor of PANK and can be found online at

Interview with Roxane Gay